SouthSouthNorth (SSN) reflections on the Africa Climate Summit (ACS) and Africa Climate Week (ACW)

During the week of 4-8 September 2023, SouthSouthNorth (SSN) attended the Africa Climate Summit (ACS) and Africa Climate Week (ACW) in Nairobi, Kenya, hosted by the Government of Kenya. This write-up is a summary of what we found during these parallel events. 


For a full account of the events hosted by SSN, please visit this news post


Event context

Africa Climate Summit (ACS)

The first ever ACS took place over three days (4-6 September), under the theme of “Green Growth and Climate Finance for Africa and the World”. The summit was attended by over 30,000 delegates and consisted of plenary sessions and side events, providing African leaders with a chance to discuss climate change, how it affects Africa, and what solutions we need to prioritise as a continent. At the conclusion of the summit, the Nairobi Declaration was adopted by the represented African Heads of State and Government in the presence of global leaders and high-level representatives. It is worth noting that some Heads of State (e.g. Nigeria, South Africa and Uganda) expressed reservations at the inclusion of certain speakers from the Global North and their likely messaging, and opted instead not to attend the ACS.


Africa Climate Week (ACW)

ACW, an annual event that forms part of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change’s (UNFCCC’s) four Regional Climate Weeks, was planned to take place in parallel with the ACS this year, from 4 to 8 September, at the same venue. The purpose of the Regional Climate Weeks is to provide a platform for governments and non-governmental organisations to discuss regional-specific climate change challenges and solutions, and build momentum ahead of the the 28th Conference of the Parties to the UNFCCC (COP28).


African context

Africa, home to 18% of the global population, emits only 4% of the world’s carbon emissions. Despite this low contribution to climate change, the continent faces disproportionate vulnerability due to limited socioeconomic growth and faster warming, as highlighted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC’s) 6th Assessment Report (AR6). To fully grasp Africa’s situation, it is essential to consider the historical context of global development, where industrialisation in developed nations produced substantial carbon emissions, which are now being phased out to combat climate change. 


As Africa continues to develop, it faces costlier and more intricate paths to socioeconomic progress. Many developing countries confront the dilemma of utilising non-renewable resources like coal to boost their economies and alleviate poverty while contending with the impacts of climate change and striving to reduce their minimal carbon footprint. Additionally, some African nations have already invested in non-renewable resource-based economies, complicating the transition to lower-carbon systems and sparking discussions on achieving a just and sustainable African future.


For more on just energy transitions, you can view this thinkpiece published by SSN’s Just Energy Transitions (JET) programme earlier this year.  


Global support

In 2009, at COP15 in Copenhagen, the unfair burden borne by Africa was acknowledged by developed countries, who committed to mobilising USD 100 billion per year by 2020 for developing countries. In 2015, at COP21, 194 Parties (193 States plus the European Union), signed the legally binding Paris Agreement, stating in Article 9.1: 


“Developed country Parties shall provide financial resources to assist developing country Parties with respect to both mitigation and adaptation in continuation of their existing obligations under the Convention.”


However, these promises have not yet come to fruition.


Additionally, at COP27 last year, it was agreed to establish a Loss and Damage Fund, to provide financial support to countries most vulnerable and impacted by climate change. A transitional committee was established and tasked with determining the details of the fund’s mechanisms and who would contribute to and benefit from the fund. 


Finally, at the ACS this month, additional pledges of approximately USD 26 billion were made by developed countries to provide support for climate investments. 


As stated in the Nairobi Declaration, Africa needs delivery of these promises in order to align with the goals set forth in the Paris Agreement. 


This topic was closely followed by SSN’s Aligning Financial Flows with the Paris Agreement in Africa (AFF) programme during ACS. 


Africa as an equal partner

While highlighting that significant financial support is needed, through multiple sources of financing, African leaders emphasised in the Nairobi Declaration that the perspective needs to shift from viewing Africa as a victim to seeing the continent as a critical player in finding solutions to the climate crises facing the world. Africa holds the potential to unlock great opportunities and solutions to mitigate, adapt to and build resilience against climate change impacts. 


During ACW, there was also a lot of discussion around reframing the challenges in Africa. For example, instead of talking about reducing poverty, Dr. Olufonso Somorin from the African Development Bank asked, “Why don’t we talk about building wealth in Africa?” In his opening remarks, President Ruto shared a similar sentiment, when he asked African leaders to imagine an “African future”. 


One of the major focus areas during the ACS was global decarbonisation through renewable energy, with Kenya leading by example with its electrical grid consisting of 81% renewable energy. Discussions around renewable energy included considerations of financing mechanisms, grid-scale battery storage and large-scale capacity building, as well as just energy transitions and universal energy access. There was also a focus on the potential of critical minerals/green minerals to drive Africa’s growth and green industrialisation. During a session co-hosted by SSN’s Climate and Development Knowledge Network (CDKN) programme, International Water Management Institute (IWMI), and Africa Group of Negotiator Experts Support (AGNES), we also explored the possible (maladaptation) consequences of focusing too much on achieving global decarbonisation goals. 


The topic of carbon markets was also extensively discussed, with some seeing this as an opportunity to source necessary finances, while others expressed apprehension about the risks and uncertainty around the benefits of carbon markets for African countries. There was a sense of appreciation for the wealth of Africa’s natural assets, such as the Congo basin; however, these natural assets were viewed with a narrow focus on carbon sequestration potential, without considering the multitudes of livelihoods supported and services provided by these natural systems.  


Although relegated to the latter half of the week, where there was a noticeable drop in attendance, there was clear evidence of the growing importance of locally-led solutions that recognise some of the gender inequities experienced by local actors. CDKN co-hosted a number of sessions in this regard, including an interactive “Climate and Society” game, a breakfast meeting amongst grant-makers on how to support locally-led adaption through granting mechanisms, and a side event on implementing more equitable ecosystem-based approaches in urban contexts


Another key topic during ACS and ACW was sustainable agricultural practices to improve food security while minimising negative environmental impacts. To explore these topics in the ACW space, SSN’s African Climate Action Partnership (AfCAP) programme hosted two pertinent and insightful events on “Supporting food security through low emission long term strategies” and “Exploring models for public-private collaboration in clean energy access”.


Looking forward to COP28 

ACS provided the African Heads of State with an opportunity to come together and find one voice, in order to go into COP28 with clear priorities and expectations in the form of the Nairobi Declaration.


After ACS and ACW, we look forward to COP28 and aspire for further global recognition of Africa as a critical partner in identifying and implementing solutions to the climate crisis, with the provision of adequate and efficient support. On climate finance, we anticipate progress on the mobilisation of the USD 100 billion per year to developing countries, and updates on the new collective quantified goal, as well as the outcome on recommendations for the operationalisation of the Loss and Damage Fund. 


In addition, decisive announcements on how the additional USD 26 billion pledged during ACS is translated into mobilised finance will also be of interest.


Finally, we are closely following developments regarding the framework for the operationalisation of the Global Goal on Adaptation and the outcome of the global stocktake at COP28.